Livestream as part of a missionary movement

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Volunteer Peter working with the live stream on a Sunday morning

As most of you know I have been working with livestream for over 5 months now in a church with a little over 600 members. We have two services, one in Dutch because we are based in the Netherlands, and one in English because we are an international church. The last couple of years the church is been streaming their services online, and over the last year we have seen a growth in viewers. But the question some people asked me was: “why do we need to focus on livestream?” After a short conversation I realized the real question was not why we had livestream, but why we need money to sustain it. “Why do we need to spend money on media at all?”

The goal of having a livestream is not only for the members of the church that are sick or unable to come to the building,  so that they still can be a part of the church, but it is also a missionary movement that takes place on the internet. Last year alone we have seen between 7 and 8 thousand unique visitors watching our livestream! Combined with the sermon video achieve we have between 200 and 300 viewers watching the videos each week. For the Netherlands, those numbers are numbers most churches here will not reach. Granted that lots of those viewers are church members that want to hear the message (again) and that the Internet crosses all borders and spaces.

One thing is clear: something changed over the last couple of years. We did not change much about our livestream, but still our viewers are growing. Well,  let me explain ‘viewers’ a little better before someone asks me why we need to invest in livestream if by doing nothing the numbers are growing anyway. Viewers are the amount of time a person clicks the ‘play’ button. And this counts for all our videos, not only the livestream. Only, the duration of that person watching the video or livestream is equally or even more important. Right now we moved from 8 minutes to 11 minute per person… I hear you think: “That is nothing!”  Believe me, there are people watching for the full hour or need to come back because they had an unstable connection. But yes, some people just leave after 8 minutes. But what the numbers also is saying that people are searching on the internet!  It is our job to hold them as long as possible to reach them with the love of God.

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The question why we focus on livestream is asking why we need a building for being church or why we need to help the sick and the poor. Because we need to! We need to reach out. We need to spread the message into the world. And apparently for the people in the church, they love to watch the message again because it touched them so that they need to hear it twice or even more.  Apparently the people that are sick at home still want to be a part of the church and watch it on Sunday mornings.

Having a livestream as a church is, I believe, a way to answer a small part of the call written in Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus says:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Our world is connected so much tighter together with the coming of Internet than two thousand years ago. When you go on the Internet you go into the world. There are almost no limitations to where you can go and reach out. Of course this is not the entire picture of the great commission or being church, but it is, in 21st century, definitely a part of it. We cannot ignore it and we cannot do it simple. That is also a part of the second question why we need to put money into departments like livestream, video and media. It is difficult enough to keep up with the developments within this sector, be creative and keep everyone happy. But it is even more difficult to reach out to those who will click on that cross in the corner of their screen when they see poor quality video or sound that damage their ears. They laugh when they visit a church website with a Comic Sans font. Within seconds they will think that the church is lame and stupid. We need to see livestream and media as part of a missionary movement. I believe if we do this with a right attitude, we can and will reach a lot of people with the love of Christ drawing them closer to their local church. So yes, if you want something you need to invest in it. By investing time + love+ money you will be able to reach out to those that seek on the Internet.

Ps. Every Sunday we are live at our website, or you can watch our archived videos. We will be improving our media as much as possible.

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The large crowd that gathered around Him

Before I became a Christian I have been organizing small pop festivals, and I went to a school for music and event management.  After I became a Christian, other Christians wanted me to ‘use’  my talents for the Kingdom. For a short time I tried, but failed.  My ‘talent’ was based on my egocentric character and was not Jesus focused.  But that is something for a different blog, for another day. This blog is about an observation I have made in the Gospel of Mark.

When you are organizing a festival there are always questions like, “Is it safe?”, “How many people are there?”, “What can go wrong?” etc.  With those questions I have read the Gospel of Mark and found remarkable ways of how Jesus was controlling his audience.

Jesus was, according to the Gospels, a super famous person. Everybody was talking about him (1:28). Also very soon in his Ministry (according to Mark) he had to wake up in the morning to find a place where He could be alone. This because everybody was looking for Him (1:37). For He was driving out demons (1:25, 39), healing people (1:41) and preaching in their synagogues (1:39). Thus, “As result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”( 1:45)

Those masses of people had to be a problem for Jesus His organization. When Jesus entered Capernaum, so many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door! ( 2:2). If we read further we notice that the crowd is now following Jesus to the lake ( 3:7). And now, for the first time written in Mark, we can read that the crowd became not only a problem, but a dangerous issue. Too many people wanted to touch Jesus, so that a possible chaos was at hand. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding  him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. “( 3:9-10). Jesus had to make precautions before it all went wrong for the people. Gundry notes that,  “He is concerned about the possibility of being crushed.”[1] However, I strongly disagree with him, because I believe that Jesus was not scared for himself (the time of Jesus was not there yet)  but for the crowd being crushed. Because some where pushing towards Jesus to touch him while others were escaping or leaving because they were just healed or delivered. For this, Jesus prepared a boat to remove the problem from the scene, Jesus himself.  When Jesus was gone, no one could touch Him and when no one could touch him, the pushing towards Jesus stopped.  Later on we see that Jesus immediately got into a boat because crowd was so large (4:1). Now he could preach to the crowd  that would listen on the shore without a crowd that wanted to touch Him.

If we go further in the book of Mark skipping some situations when a large crowd followed him or gathered around Him, we come to the famous story of Jesus feeding the Five thousand (6:30-42).  He saw the large crowd and had compassion with them (6:34).  They were hungry and He wanted to feed them. For the disciples this was a problem. There were too many people and they had not enough money to feed them.  For Jesus this was not a problem at all, as we can see in this passage. But to feed the people without creating a massive outbreak of chaos that could lead to panic, anger, aggression, and could even (in a worst case scenario) lead to the death of a lot of people. Without crowd control, there would be no hold to a large crowd of people that were hungry. So before Jesus broke the fish and loaves He directed them (the disciples) to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass (6:39). So the disciples were like a kind of stewards/security. The kind we have now at big events. They directed the people in groups of hundreds and fifties. This in order to have a good overview and easy excess to the large crowd of people.  This also indicates that there were at least more than one group of five thousand so with a minimum of ten thousand people it was a large crowd (This would be logic because the number of men who had eaten was five thousand (6:44), but the women and children were not counted). Then, while Jesus broke the fish and loaves, he gave the fish and loaves to the disciples as an opposite of collecting money like nowadays in the church. Jesus was giving the crowd food through the disciples that now where delivering boys.  Or they had different teams, some that held the groups together, some that delivered the food (This could indicate a successful organization!).

I want to note one important thing what interested me a lot.  That is, which we see in the entire book of Mark, that Jesus was famous and He was a magnet of large crowds. But near the end of Jesus His ministry when He was arrested, we see that Pilate gives the crowd, although under control of the chief priest, a choice (15:11). Freeing the famous Jesus the King of the Jews, who delivered so much of people and brought healing, or to free Barabbas, a criminal, instead (15:6-11). They shouted that Jesus should be crucified!  When did Jesus lose the magnitude of the crowd? Or was the crowd  present at the trial not the same one as the crowd present when Jesus did the miracles and the wonders?


[1] Robert H. Gundry, A survey of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Michigan 2003), 135

Searching the Jesus-rush

Just a while ago I was reading a magazine of National Geographic about searching for treasure. The reason I wanted to read this magazine, is because when I was a child I always dreamed of great and mysterious treasure. So when I was in a store searching for a good magazine, the child in me wanted to dream again of lost treasure. Not that this blog is about my past or my dreamy childhood, but while I was reading, something flew through my thought process.  The column I read with the title ‘the Lure of Treasure’ starts with:

“From the time humans first saw the wink of a gemstone or the glint of gold, they have desired to possess that rare and costly beauty for their own.”

Not to over spiritualize everything, but I link the word ‘treasure’ almost every time with the Bible. In Matthew 6:21 Jesus is saying: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This verse shows us that if we want to live for Jesus and in His Kingdom, we have to see Him as our most worthy treasure. If we do not see Jesus as our treasure, our heart is not with Him.

But then I am reading that we as humans always have desired treasure as a fulfillment of our emptiness. Almost as a counter reaction to keep us from our true treasure.  Jesus is therefore saying in Matthew 6:19: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Naturally, there are several meanings and interpretations about this verse. What I want to point out, is that treasure has a tremendous power. Let me explain further.

“Treasure, in its darkest guise, has been the motive for murder ,theft, and betrayal, the material of plots and bribes. It has prompted population shifts and the demise of civilizations.”

To understand our heavenly treasure, we have to see what the counter reaction of heavenly treasure (what is earthly treasure) on the earth is able to do. The roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote: “The things… concealed and hidden underground, are the things that destroy us and drive us to the depths below”. If this earthly treasure is a counter reaction to the effect of our heavenly treasure, then the opposite are the things that shape us, free us, and drive us to higher places.  The Greek deity Hades is god of both wealth and the underworld. There is something that wants to lure us from the effects and greatness of this heavenly treasure.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”Matthew 13:45-46

This desire to find and posses costly beauty is in the heart of men, and God knows this because he created us. He made us with this desire to forever search the most precious and costly beauty to ever exist: Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

Treasure in its darkest guise also has another power copied from treasure Jesus is presenting. “It has prompted population shifts and the demise of civilizations.” In 1886, the gold rush build Johannesburg and it inspired the Spanish conquest of the New world and the collapse of the Aztec and Inca Empires. Nowadays, gold is not the reason of bargain in wars, but oil is for example. So earthly treasure changes. But what happens when Christians understand their treasure and the power it beholds? If they would understand the treasure that is always the same and always has the greatest value. What if people, both Christian and non- Christian, were again searching for real value and treasure? This Jesus-rush would be able to be cause of population shifts and the demise of demonic nations and spiritual realms!

Then when I look to myself, do I really understand the value and worth of this treasure? Am I totally satisfied? Why do we as Christians pursue and desire so much more than Christ only?

For a new born Christian, Jesus is the only thing in life; nothing ells matters (obviously this can still be the case for the rest of his/her life).  This moment, what some disappointed Christians call the first love, is, how I see it, the realization of finding this treasure.  But lots of Christians are, after a while, searching for more. Did they find the treasure? Yes! (in most cases). Can we lose our treasure? Absolutely! But that is why there is a treasure map, to find our way back to the treasure. Read it carefully, follow the lines and you will see that the treasure is indicated with a cross.

The suffering of God

Does God suffer, or is He impassible? If He is impassible, how would He be able to care for this world? And if He suffers, wouldn’t that ascribe weakness to an all powerful God?
To provide an answer to those questions, I will discuss the concept of a suffering God in the Old Testament, the suffering God in the New Testament, an finally I will discuss the question if God suffers today, in a post – Biblical time.

Does God suffer in the Old Testament?

To begin this blog I will look at the definition of suffering. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, it can mean two things: physical or mental pain, feelings of pain and unhappiness.[1]

To see if God suffers, we have to look for these characteristics attributed to God in the Old Testament. There are several accounts in the Old Testament where God is expressing several emotions and feelings. I will discuss a few of them.

In Genesis 6:5 God saw “how great man`s wickedness on the earth had become, and the every inclination of the thoughts of the heart was only evil all the time.” His emotional response in verse 6 is: “the LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. “ in Ezekiel 36:6 God is speaking  in His “Jealous wrath”  and in Jeremiah 7:20 He says: “ My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground, and it will burn and not be quenched.” So after reading these passages, can we say that the God of whom we are speaking, was suffering?

St. Augustine believed in the divine impassibility, that is, not subject to suffering, pain, or harm. [2] But on the other hand, Augustine recognized the emotions of God. “Confronted with the biblical accounts of divine repentance, anger, compassion and patience, St. Augustine makes optimal efforts to show that God`s emotions do not interfere with His immutability[3]  Augustine explains this: “God, can love and be angry; He as emotions, but unlike human beings, He cannot be subject to His feelings; He is in perfect control of His emotion.”[4] So Augustine implies that God can have emotions, but is in perfect control of this emotions.  And thus God can suffer but is in perfect control of it. God
is not subject to his suffering but His suffering is subject to Him. Impassible for the world passible for Himself.

Taking these Biblical accounts into consideration, a conclusion may be made that God expresses feelings of pain, anger and unhappiness throughout the Old Testament. But would the same be true for the New Testament?

Does God suffer in the New Testament?

The Oxford definition of suffering implies both physical and mental pain. While searching the New Testament for evidence of a suffering God, you have to look at the life of Jesus Christ. Only when interpreting Jesus’ suffering as the suffering of God, one issue arises: are Jesus and God the same? And thus, can the pain Jesus experiences be translated as God’s suffering?

First of all, one has to acknowledge the Trinitarian belief that God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one God. John 3: 16 “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” is talking about God, sending His Son Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther believed that Jesus, like the councils declared, was both fully God and fully man[5].  One with the Father and the Spirit but apart.  “For Luther, Christ is God by nature though He, according to His office, subjects Himself to the Father.[6] The Father and the Son are two different divine beings, yet they are one.  If we hold on to the Trinitarian belief, could I say that if God the Father suffered in the Old testament, He was also effected by Christ’s suffering on earth?
Luther  states that “what is being attributed to the one nature of the person is attributed to the whole person[7]  So the suffering of Jesus on earth, effected God the Father. Nevertheless many theologians including Luther will not accept the Father as a suffering God, because it shows weakness. God is  omnipotent, unchangeable, all powerful.  And that all is true, even when they say that God is therefore impassible.  But the last statement is just a human philosophy that removes all what seems not logical for us. If God is able to suffer, He is, according to His other characteristics, not subject to His suffering, but the suffering is subject to Him. This would make Him even more powerful.  Luther said: “You must confess that Christ, or the person, suffered and died. Now that person is true God. Therefore it is correct to say that the Son of God suffered. For although one part of Him namely, the deity, does not suffer,…….”[8]

Accepting the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son and therefore part of the divine Father, we can now explore the suffering of Jesus on earth.

The first form of suffering in the life of Jesus is described in Matthew 4:1-11 where the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the desert where the devil could test Him and “After Jesus had gone without eating for forty days and nights, he was very hungry.”  Here the Bible implies Jesus had His first physical and mental pain. In his life, Jesus experienced joy, sadness, anger, and compassion.  At the end of his life, He was crucified,[9] where Jesus suffered both mentally and physically, and finally died a horrible and painful death.

Does God still suffer today?

Although the Biblical accounts are very clear about feelings of pain, hurt, grief, and anger attributed to God, one must wonder if the same is true today, in a post-biblical time. What would make God suffer, if He does?

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells about the final judgment, when Jesus will sit on His throne and places the sheep on His right, and the goats on His left. The sheep are the people who receive the kingdom of God. To the goats Jesus says: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”  In this passage, Jesus claims that whenever a person is lacking clothes, food, or other basic necessities of life, He is lacking those things Himself. Is God, in a way, sharing in our suffering? Or should this Bible passage be regarded as a metaphor only?

In his book ‘God suffers for us’, Jung Young Lee says: “‘God does not stand outside the range of human suffering and sorrow. He is personally involved in, even stirred by, the conduct and fate of man.’ If God participates in His creatures, He is the One who is concerned with everything, because He lives in and with them. In the perfect empathy of God, as Weatherhead said, ‘the sufferings of men are the sufferings of God.’”[10] . According to his theology, God chooses to participate, and thus chooses to suffer due to our sufferings. The only difference between mankind and God, is that God has a choice, which makes the suffering subject to Him.

Taking this into consideration, God is suffering whenever mankind suffers. But why does mankind suffer, and since when? The answer to that question can be found in the book of Genesis, where God says to Adam and Eve: “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die(3:3).” Adam and Eve ate from that tree nevertheless, and their eyes were opened. As a response, God says to Eve: “‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’ To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, you must not eat of it: cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return(16-19).’

As Genesis tells us, mankind suffers because of our (Adam and Eve’s) choice to rebel against God. Although God is all powerful, He is not absent or in that way impassible. He is participating, and by doing so He suffers, but He is not subject to that suffering. He provides an answer to our suffering in Jesus Christ. And now,  He is not only suffering because of our choice to sin, He is also rejoicing because of our choice to accept Christ.

Conclusion

As the Bible tells us, God does allow Himself to feel pain, anger, grief, and the like. A conclusion may be made that it is Biblical to say that God suffers, although He is in control of it.
God most High, chooses to participate in our lives. He is a God that cares for us, and shares in our pain and suffering. This makes Him not just God, the Creator of all, but a divine Being who is close to us, and feels whatever we experience. I believe that this is true for all times; for the time of the Bible and today. God is a suffering God, which makes Him the omnipotent, all powerful God that He is.

Bibliography

Oxford university Press, Definition and pronunciation, http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/suffering, (accessed October 18, 2011)

Farlex, the free dictionary, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Impassibility, (accessed October 18, 2011)

D. Ngien, The suffering of God According to Martin Luther`s “Theologia Crucis”. New York, Peter Lang Publishing, 1995

Nnamani, Amuluche Gregory: The paradox of a suffering God: on the classical, modern Western and Third world struggles to harmonise the incompatible attributes of the Trinitarian God. Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang GmbH, 1995

J. Young Lee, God suffers for us, a systematic inquiry into a concept of divine possibility. The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1974


[1] Oxford university Press, Definition and pronunciation, http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/suffering, (accessed October 18, 2011)

[2] Farlex, the free dictionary, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Impassibility, (accessed October 18, 2011)

[3] Nnamani, Amuluche Gregory: The paradox of a suffering God, on the classical, modern Western and Third world struggles to harmonise the incompatible attributes of the Trinitarian God ( Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang GmbH, 1995), 86

[4] Idem,.

[5] D. Ngien, The suffering of God According to Martin Luther`s “Theologia Crucis”, ( New York, Peter Lang Publishing, 1995), 55

[6] Idem., 61

[7] Idem., 69

[8] Idem., 70

[9] John 19:28-37, Matthew  27: 50, Luke 23:33-43

[10] J. Young Lee, God suffers for us, a systematic inquiry into a concept of divine possibility ( the Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1974), 48